late 1800s or early 1900s
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2016.33
Figures such as this, known as ofika, were central to the initiation practices and the enforcement of laws among the all-male Lilwa association, a hierarchical organization that served educational, judicial, political, economic, and ritual functions among the Mbole. Meant to instill a moral code and to act as a cautionary symbol during initiation for Lilwa novices, ofika figures are believed to represent criminals who were ritually hanged for transgressions against Lilwa laws. The figure’s encrusted surface imitates how members covered their bodies with a substance made of ashes and palm oil during burial rites.
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